Sunday 19 November 2017

Ulster bank on Scarlets favour

Brendan Fanning

Brendan Fanning

If Ulster were willing Leinster in vain to produce something special last Wednesday night in Galway they will be on bended knee this afternoon that Parc y Scarlets is a bridge too far for a Connacht side taking to the field for the third time in eight days.

It doesn't help Brian McLaughlin's cause that while his lot are up against an Edinburgh team chasing a top four place, the Scarlets have only pride to play for. It's not a cheap commodity in that part of West Wales, but it hasn't been much use to them in their last five games, all of them lost. In which case, the energy Connacht can bring to the game this afternoon will be critical.

Leinster tried to run them off their feet last week and we were given a classic example of how a willing mind can drive a tired body. The fuel in that case being a winning lead that needed defending. The figure you have seen most often in relation to the fact that this is their third game in just over a week is 28: ie the number of full contracts on the Connacht roster.

To compound the issue they have Toulon in the semi-final of the Amlin Challenge Cup on Friday. Good news for McLaughlin, that, for it will be impossible for Michael Bradley's side to focus exclusively on the business in hand at Parc y Scarlets.

Priorities being all important at this point, Bradley is sending out only six of the team from that excellent win over Leinster. On the face of it, their cause will be helped by the absence from Scarlets' ranks of Stephen Jones but Rhys Priestland is further evidence that when it comes to producing quality 10s, Wales have the knack.

The same position is an ongoing issue for Ulster. They have turned again to Niall O'Connor, and it's been a feature of their winless last six games that control in that position is critically absent.

At least up front McLaughlin can call up four of his heaviest hitters. Rory Best, BJ Botha, Stephen Ferris and Willie Faloon all return. Faloon is the least known perhaps of that quartet, but if Ulster have struggled at 10, their injury crisis at openside has been every bit as damaging, so his return is very important.

So is Edinburgh's record at home, however. They may play in a stadium only speckled with supporters but they are unbeaten in their last seven games at Murrayfield. Set against Ulster's form that's a significant stat, but at least McLaughlin's men have beaten this opposition in Europe this season, which feels like a long time ago.

If they want to stay in the same European competition next season, then a win today would be more than useful.

Sunday Independent

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